Sermon: The Message of the Resurrection

The Message of the Resurrection
John 20:1-18 RUMC
April 16, 2017

Benjamin Franklin was a colorful character in our nation’s history. Among many things, he was an author, a printer, a scientist, an inventor, a statesman and a diplomat.  In one of his lighter moments as a young man, he wrote his own epitaph: “The body of B. Franklin, Printer, like the cover of an old Book.  Its contents torn out, And stript of its Letering and gilding, Lies here, Food for Worms, but the Work shall not be wholly lost:  For it will, as he believ’d, Appear once more in a new and more perfect Edition, Corrected and amended by the Author.”  Mr. Franklin was a printer at the time of this unusual funeral statement; he knew there was life after death and could base that hope on Jesus’ resurrection of the dead.

My text is from John 20, verses 1-18.
Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. 2 So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” 3 Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. 4The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5 He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. 6 Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, 7 and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. 8 Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; 9 for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. 10 Then the disciples returned to their homes.

11 But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; 12 and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. 13 They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” 14 When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15 Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” 16 Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). 17 Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” 18 Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her.
This is the Word of God.

It was dawn on the first Easter morning when Mary Magdalene went to the tomb. Her task was to anoint the body of Jesus.  As she walked, her thoughts centered on who was going to roll away the 4000 pound stone from the tomb entrance.  We know how the story ended.  The stone had indeed been rolled away; Jesus, who was dead, was now alive.  So as believers, we can categorically say that Easter is to our faith:

  • what water is to the ocean
  • what stones are to a mountain
  • what blood is to our bodies

In the dictionary of God, Easter is the first and final word.  It is the New Year’s Day of our Souls-a sacred mystery that continues to defy medicine, logic and science.  When you think about it, Easter is about the celebration of the empty tomb.

Now along these lines, back in the beginning of western civilization, there was a time when people looked out at the vast Atlantic Ocean and wondered if there was anything beyond. There was this superstitious belief that if a ship managed to get to the ends of the earth, it would sail off the edge.  The country of Spain’s coat of arms had as its motto Ne Plus Ultra, which means “There is nothing beyond.”  Then came Christopher Columbus’ discovery of a new world and Spain’s motto was changed to Plus Ultra which means “There is more beyond.”

plus ultra

If we look into the spiritual realm, Jesus’ resurrection had the same effect, there is more beyond.

Paul the Apostle said the same thing in 1 Corinthians 2:9 when he wrote, “Eye has not seen, ear has not heard, neither has entered into the human heart, the wonderful things God has prepared for his people”

Jesus also said in John 14, “In my Father’s house are many rooms and I am going there to prepare a place for you.”

Dr. A. J. Gordon, the founder of Gordon College in Wenham, Massachusetts, once brought an old, rusty, empty birdcage to church and placed it next to the pulpit. He did this to illustrate a story of how he had seen a young lad who wore tattered blue jeans, a dirty T shirt, with a ball cap off to the side, carrying this particular birdcage.  This was the conversation between Dr. Gordon and the boy.

“Sonny, what do you have there?”
The boy answered: “I got some birds.”
“What are you going to do with them?
The boy said, “O mess around with them, tease them or something like that.”
“When you get tired of them, what are you going to do?”
The boy thought for a moment and said, “When I get home I will give them to the cats.”
“How much do you want for the birds?”
Surprised, the boy said, “Mister, those birds ain’t no good.”
Well, regardless, how much would you like for them?”
|The little fella said, “How about two bucks?”
“Sold.”

So Dr. Gordon reached into his pocket and gave the boy two one dollar bills, and the boy thought he won the lottery. The boy walked away.  Dr. Gordon opened the cage door and set the birds free.

A couple of days later, Dr. Gordon told his congregation in his Easter sermon, how the empty birdcage was a picture of how Satan had trapped and frightened the human race. Not only did Jesus pay the price for our salvation, but when he rose from the dead, he set us free–just as the two sparrows were set free.

Now I realize that there may be some who have doubts about whether Christ’s resurrection actually happened the way it was written down, or happened at all. Consider this statement that was written by the Apostle Peter in his epistle (2 Peter 1:16) “We did not follow, cleverly invented stories, but we were eye witnesses.”

If the resurrection of the dead was fake news, Peter and the other apostles who were eye witnesses, who had spoken to Jesus after his death and touched his body, would never have allowed themselves to die. They would not have become martyrs of the faith for something false.  This is one of the reasons that I believe we can trust the biblical record.

Therefore, the resurrection matters because:

  • Jesus is who he claimed to be.
  • He has the power he claimed to have.
  • My past and yours can be forgiven.
  • My problems and yours can be managed.
  • My future and yours can be secure.

With Christ in our hearts, Easter becomes meaningful. If he is not in our hearts, then Easter becomes a special Sunday that features chocolates, bunnies and colored eggs.

  • If it has been awhile since you have been on speaking terms with your Heavenly Father, why don’t you open up your hearts.
  • If you have gone through hurts that have been unresolved, allow God to begin the healing.
  • If you have had unanswerable questions of faith which has caused you to erect a barrier, why don’t you search the Scriptures, trust in the Lord even though you don’t have all the answers.
  • If you have had a bad experience in the church or someone has let you down, let it go.

Let this Easter be the beginning of a new faith journey where you experience Jesus in a new way. If you would like to reignite your relationship with the Lord, join me in this prayer.
Loving God, I open up my heart to you. I would ask that you would forgive me for any wrongs that I might have done and let me experience you in a new way.  Revive my faith and give me a fresh touch from you.  Amen.

Sermon: Easter 2016

Easter 2016
John 20:1-18
RUMC March 27, 2016

For most of his life, Thomas Jefferson was convinced that some of the stories of Jesus written in the gospels were filled with falsehoods.  And once he completed his two terms as the 3rd President of the United States, he decided that he would edit his own version of the gospels. So with quill in hand, he went through the gospels of the Matthew, Mark, Luke and John and scratched out all those supernatural references of miracles and physical healings.  According to Mr. Jefferson, Jesus was a great teacher of love, morals, and service–and nothing more.

The last verse of the Jefferson Bible reads, “There they laid Jesus and rolled a great stone at the mouth of the sepulcher and departed.”  If you wish to purchase a paper copy of the Jeffersonian Bible, it can be ordered from Amazon.com for only $4.95.

Now Jefferson was right about one thing, Jesus did die.  But hopefully for all of us here, the story continues.  Our Lord did rise from the dead.  Down through the ages Christ has revolutionized the lives of believers.  And that is what our faith is all about.

Today’s scripture is John 20:1-18.
Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. 10 Then the disciples returned to their homes.

11 But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; 12 and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. 13 They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” 14 When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15 Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” 16 Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). 17 Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” 18 Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her.
This is the word of God.  Thanks be to God.

If you were to describe your personal experience of Easter, using only punctuation marks, which ones would you use?

  • Would Easter be a comma (,) which makes you pause, think or listen?
  • Would Easter be a period (.) like Thomas Jefferson, who believed Jesus died and was buried?
  • Would Easter be a question mark (?) because there is still doubt in your mind as to what had happened?
  • Would Easter be an exclamation point (!) because Christ is alive in your hearts?

Max Lucado in his book, Six Hours One Friday told a story of a Brazilian missionary who tried to help a remote Indian tribe who suffered from the ravages of a deadly virus.  Many had died of that plague.  However there was a ray of hope, because there was a hospital nearby.

The only way to get patients to the hospital was to cross the river.  But the members of this particular Indian tribe would not cross, because they believed evil spirits inhabited it.  And according to their superstitions, to enter into the water, meant certain death.

This missionary who worked with this group, tried to explain there would be no harm if they would simply wade across.  But the people would not listen.  To further explain that the water was harmless, he took them to the edge of the river, and placed his hand under the water.  Again they were not convinced.  The missionary jumped into the water, waded up to his waist, and splashed water on his face, but they would not believe.  Finally, the missionary dove under the water and swam beneath the surface.  When he emerged close to the other side, he raised a triumphant fist.  It was then that the Indians broke into a cheer, jumped into the water, and crossed the river.

This story is similar to what Jesus had done for us.  He entered the river of death and emerged on the other side.  This was done so we might no longer fear death, but find eternal life.

Six of the world’s major religions, Judaism, Buddhism, Islam, Confucianism, Sikhism and Christianity are based on personalities who happen to be the founders of their faith.  But Christianity is the only religion that claims an empty tomb for its founder.  For example:

Abraham was the father of the Jewish people and died around 1900 BC. He is buried in Hebron, Israel at the Tombs of the Patriarchs.  His mausoleum has a black top on it.

Siddhartha Gautama or the Buddha lived to be 80 years old when he died in Nepal in 483BC.  He was cremated and some of his remains are believed to be in a temple in Kushinagar, India

Mohammed the founder of Islam died at the age of 61 in 632 AD.  He is buried in what is called the Prophet’s Mosque in Medina, Saudi Arabia.  His tomb is cordoned off with gold mesh and black curtains; it is one of the places that devout Moslems visit during the annual pilgrimage or the Haj.

Confucius was a great Chinese philosopher died in 479 BC.  He is buried in the cemetery of Confucius in Qufu city in Shandong Province in China.

Guru Nanek is the founder of the Sikh religion.  This is the religious faith where the men wear turbans and carry swords.  Guru Nanek died in 1539 and his cremated remains are located here Katarpur, Pakistan.

And now we come to Jesus the Christ who said, “I am the resurrection and the life.”  Here we see the empty tombIf we were to remove the resurrection from our belief structure, we would lose our identity.  It would be like taking the engine out of the car.  The automobile might be nice to look at, but it wouldn’t be able to go anywhere.

For Christians, the resurrection is more than an event of history or a creed we recite.  And if we truly respond to it by giving our heart to Christ and becoming born from above, we will be changed by it.  That is what resurrection faith does.

One person who had resurrection faith was United Methodist Pastor, Kelly Clem.

On Palm Sunday 1994, a tornado struck the church that she served, the Goshen United Methodist in Piedmont, Alabama.  The destruction to the building was tremendous.  On that fateful day, 90 people were injured and 20 tragically died.  Among the fatalities was Pastor Clem’s four year old daughter, Hannah.

The night after the tragedy, Pastor Clem tried to sleep through the emotional pain of the loss of her daughter and the physical pain of her injuries.  But she had an unusual dream: She saw was herself lifting bricks and tossing them aside so she could rescue the many victims.  But as her dream progressed, she saw the spot where her daughter had died.  There in that place, children were dressed in beautiful bright colors.  They seemed oblivious to the onlookers as they played and laughed on the grass that was the greenest of green.  When Pastor Clem awoke, a peace settled over her that strengthened her for the funerals she would have to conduct.  The next day, a news reporter asked if the disaster had shattered her faith.  She said, “It hasn’t shattered my faith, but I’m holding on to my faith.  It’s holding me.”

Pastor Clem had resurrection faith.  And with this type of life changing faith, we will be able to get through anything and face any obstacle or difficulty.  With the reality of the resurrection, we will experience life after death and see our loved ones.

  • The resurrection matters because Jesus is who he claimed to be.
  • The resurrection matters because Jesus has the power he claimed to have.
  • The resurrection matters because my past and yours can be forgiven.
  • The resurrection matters because my problems and yours can be managed.
  • The resurrection matters because my future and yours can be secure.

I recognize that there are many like Thomas Jefferson who choose to believe the end of the story was when they rolled the stone over the mouth of the tomb.  Unfortunately we live in a culture that is skeptical of the claims of faith.  Intellectually it is easy to accept the resurrection as only a metaphor or symbolic.  Jesus did say “Nothing is impossible with God.”  What makes Jesus unique and special is the supernatural.  I believe you can combine the moral teachings with the miracles.

Let me close:  Easter is all about hope and belief.  With Christ in our hearts, Easter becomes meaningful.  We have the assurance that God loves us; we are his children; and we know we have a place when we die.

If Christ is not in our hearts, it becomes a regular holiday of chocolate bunnies, egg hunts, decorated baskets, jelly beans, candy chicks, spring clothes and dinner with family.  So I would encourage all of us to embrace the spiritual aspect of Easter and all these things will be a joy.